April 29, 2015

Fabric shopping in Tokyo

Greetings from Tokyo! After 48 hours of brutal jetlag (I didn’t realize it was possible to drool and walk into so many fixed objects with such panache) I am fully in the Japanese swing of things. So what did I do as soon as I had a semblance of sanity?

Fabric shopping, of course!

Based on the recommendation of, well, everybody I asked, I hoofed it up to Nippori Fabric Town, which is conveniently on the main circular Yamanote metro line in central Tokyo (talking of which: is there a cleaner and more efficient subway system in the world? I think not).

Step off the train platform and this is what you see….

Fabric shopping in Tokyo

Naturally, I forgot to print off the Nippori Town Guide I’d previously been studying, but it wasn’t an issue, because pretty much all the stores are on the one street which starts at the station. There are more than 80 stores, but it’s a fairly compact area and much more calm and easy to navigate than the NYC garment district. I loved seeing all the little signs advertising the stores, and particularly loved that plaid carpeted road! The yellow brick road for sewists, I think.

nippori 6

There’s a range of types of stores, from beautifully curated vintage button stores (of which more shortly), to notions shops, lace specialists, upholstery suppliers, leather shops and more. As usual, I was totally overwhelmed.


After wandering up and down the street, my willing accomplice Anthony and I ended up spending most of our time in Tomato, which has multiple locations on the street and floor after floor of droolworthy wares.


Here’s just a taste of what I found: (top left, clockwise) neon checked linen! reversible sweater knits! *pre-quilted* Nani Iro prints! awesome eyelet! 


More lovely lightweight linen, Nani Iro, awesome checks, and very soft washed ginghams… I loved how many times fabrics were available in multiple colourways.


And no tour would be complete without the piles and piles and stacks and mountains of whimsical animal fabrics. Truly, Japan is the capital of whimsy. Observe: bear, plug and badger etchings; cheeky foxes; languorous cats; and, to quote the fabric, “more cats”. I really had to restrain myself, due to the rather large gap between my fabric taste and my clothing taste. Trust me, if fabric taste Jenny got her way, I’d be full time cat whimsy, 24-7.


Some more unusual finds included this printed grid “lace” (not sure what else to call it), multi-coloured fake fur, and a large array of lace collars. I totally fell in love with the silk crepe print at the bottom right, until I realized it was $250/meter. At which point it became unrequited love.


The vintage buttons store I mentioned had the most amazing collection of chunky unusual buttons I think I’ve ever seen (naturally, they were whimsically displayed). I think they must have been re-mounted because the packaging was all a bit too perfect, but the range and types of buttons was awesome, and unusually they often had 10 or more of the same button (all my vintage ones are in packs of 5).

After wrestling my kawaii demons to the ground, I did manage to make some awesome, but eminently sensible, purchases.


First up: stripes! The top two are heathered terry – lovely and soft, and reminded me so much of Jen, a classy role model of mine. I also couldn’t resist a simple jersey stripe which was just the right weight, texture and stripe width (all sewists know, critical factors in a Breton). Then, gorgeous midweight linen! These are much more vibrant in real life, and yellow/grey and blue/green are my two favourite colour-combos so I bought 4 yards of each. Skirts and shirtdresses coming up, I think… And then finally, a lightweight seersucker-textured cotton in grey and limey yellow (again a bit brighter in person). I’m pretty certain it’s destined to be a maxi Southport
If you ever find yourself in Tokyo, I highly recommend checking out Nippori town, even if you only have an hour to pop into Tomato. Go and stroke all the animal prints for me, please. Then, follow my lead and get a creme patissiere choux bun from Docatur afterwards. You deserve it. 



I’m off to Kyoto at the weekend: does anyone have any top tips for sewing shopping there? I’m already looking forward to visiting the handmade needle place! (how does one hand make a needle?! The mind boggles). Oh and if you’re dying for Japanese fabric but haven’t quite made it there yet? Check out Miss Matatabi – she has a huge range of Japanese fabric, the site is in English, and they ship worldwide – I apologise in advance for the damage to your wallet 😉

38 thoughts on “Fabric shopping in Tokyo

  1. Heather says:

    Too fun! You are living out my dreams! Enjoy.

  2. 80 shops in one place?! i may have to check out Japan! You made some gorgeous purchases and found some other gems. I’m in love with the neon grid linens!

  3. mrswhiskerson says:

    I love that yellow and grey linen, and the seersucker – it is a fab colour combination.

  4. Jo says:

    OMG I’m dying! I want to get on a plane to Tokyo immediately! That neon checked linen… drool…

  5. This looks so much fun! Those animal prints are amazing. Can’t wait to see what Kyoto is like too, would love to go to Japan 🙂

  6. I don’t understand how you had enough wilpower to avoid buying that cat fabric, or the bears. *Swoon*

  7. bimbleandpimble says:

    Gah! So jealous! When we went to Fabric Town last year it was Golden Week and everything was closed. I truly almost cried as we walked up and down the street. But I had been to Nomura Tailor in Kyoto- it is my fave fabric store EVER. Treat yo self and go to both locations! Have a blast 😀 😀 😀

  8. Nathalie says:

    Now I want to go to japan on holiday! You purchases look lovely, I can’t wait to see what you are going to do with them.

  9. AJW says:

    What amazing fun. So. jealous. Enjoy every minute.

  10. This makes me so nostalgic ! Must. Go. Back. Soon.

  11. gilliancrafts says:

    There’s an antique market by the black pagoda in Kyoto once or twice a month that we stumbled on (lordy, in 2005, so who knows what’s still running!) I bought a whole bunch of old kimono and obi for $10 each, and I love them!

  12. Holly says:

    There,is a great at shop on Shijo-dori, towards the river, by the Daimanu department store. Multiple floors! Habu Textiles is also in Kyoto. Don’t miss Nishiki Market. Also highly recommend Grand Burger at the NE corner of the Imperial Palace park grounds, the Bamboo Forest and Craft Man craft beer house. Enjoy!

  13. Charlotte says:

    I keep gasping. Because I’m a gasper but, you know, it’s fabric. That blue and green check (what a surprise) is the ultimate.

  14. Carolyn says:

    This is on my bucket list fabric places to shop! Though I’m sure I wouldn’t show as much restraint as you did! That printed lace shouldn’t have been left because it’s so gorgeous!

  15. Darcie says:

    When you are shopping in a fabulous place like that but don’t have any specific patterns in mind, how many yards of any one thing do you generally get and how do you decide?

  16. Marike Smit says:

    How did you not faint from over-excitement!?

  17. lamatangelo says:

    Kyoto is really the home of the traditional style Kimono and some of the Kimono silk painting artists will let you tour their shops. It would be amazing to see!

  18. Dana says:

    How nice to have some time to fabric shop! Great finds. I look forward to seeing your creations.

  19. Tanya Maile says:

    Oh my, I don’t know how you didn’t buy all the things! I just love Japanese prints and their fabric is so divine. So much to do and see — I guess I’ll have to put Japan on my travel list!

  20. Eleanor says:

    Man, are you one lucky chick! I would love to have some of that fabric with the etched dogs on it. I am looking forward to seeing what you do with the plaid fabric. It is really beautiful.

  21. Jo says:

    You lucky, lucky girl. I walked through Nippori last September, and was on the 5th floor of Tomato when an earthquake struck! I wasn’t into dressmaking at the time, so my shopping involved quantities that are… less than useful now.

    But, I have a recommendation for Kyoto. They have moved since I visited them (I visited mid-move), but hunt down Habu Textiles (link at the bottom) – the ladies were so very polite, and wanted to please! They have yarn too, and some really nice buttons – the shop was tiny when I visited, but the fabric range, although small, was very traditional Japanese. Fingers crossed you find them – the map suggests they’re more central now than they were.

    Also, I must give you a food recommendation. Head to Misoka, in the centre of the shopping district. It’s well priced, and absolutely excellent noodles. Enjoy!

    Habu Textiles: http://habutextiles.com/habu_kyoto

  22. Katie says:

    Crying here. The whimsical animal collage of pics? ALL OF THEM PLEASE.

  23. You do know that every sewing peep in the western world is completely jealous of you now…

  24. Emily says:

    Amazing photos! I am heading to Japan in November so thanks for the inspiration on where to go! 🙂

  25. I don’t think I’ve ever been more jealous in my life! God, everything is so bleeding beautiful! Also I would like to see a bit more cat whimsy Jenny. You should indulge her every now and again 😉

  26. WOW, love the photos, thanks for being so thorough with the street shots too!

    Have a lovely time! I’ve been to Kyoto but when I was sixteen, so I was looking for where you can buy alcohol in the vending machines, not fabric stores! Plus, it’s freaking beautiful!

  27. gingermakes says:

    HOLY CROW!!!!! What beautiful treasures!!! Pre-quilted Nani Iro?!?!?! Foxes and cats?!?!?!?!? PUGS?!?!?! My husband has been wanting to go to Japan, but I’ve resisted (mainly because he collects toys/action figures and I seriously fear for what/how much he would bring back), but now I’m thinking we should go!!! Hope you’re having a wonderful time!

  28. LaPriel says:

    So fun! Thanks for sharing.

  29. Shopping for fabric in other countries is great! I have been shopping in Paris, but I envy your chance to go to shops in tokyo. 🙂 The fabric you found looks fantastic.

  30. Susannah says:

    Wow, am SALIVATING and it has nothing to do with the shot of the pastry!

  31. Diane says:

    Jenny, your post has me so excited for my upcoming trip! I visited Nippori Fabric Town on my last visit and it was completely overwhelming, so I’m going to have to go in with a game plan this time! Can’t wait to see where you go in Kyoto.

  32. Oh my gosh, the buttons. The buttons!! Lately I’ve been getting so grumpy because the button selection doesn’t seem that great in Austin, and it’s so hard to shop online to do color matching. What a lucky duck you are to find all this on your trip!

  33. O! Jolly! says:

    Hi Jenny! I got here via your IG feed, hoping to see more pics of those amazing sweater knits. Please post more if you have any! It ALL looks amazing though. Enjoy your visit!

  34. Kathi Sorensen says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I will be in Kyoto for a few days and now I will be able to find the wonderful fabric I’ve dreamed about for years. The last time we were there, I could only find one store where I bought some silk for a blouse, but not enough, apparently so it’s in my stash, looking lonely. This time I’m going to ditch poor husband who usually shuffles behind me in fabric stores, plaintively enquiring “aren’t you done yet?” I’ll trade him three temples for one fabric store!
    Also thanks for taking up the sword for us women who aren’t all size 0. Going to make a cake now,
    Kathi from the Sacramento/foothills area!

  35. Alieke van Vessem says:

    This was an awesome post to read! And I’ve never been to Japan, though i always wanted too, but i have a real soft spot for kawaii fabrics. So the etsy shop you recommended on the bottom is right up my alley! Unfortunately they always sell by the quarter, so you’ll be like ” OMG that’s so cheap! I’m going to get like a 1000 meters of this one!” And then you’ll discover it’s sold by the quarter and you’ll be like ” FML” . Anyway, have fun in Kyoto and stay safe!

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